The leap from high school sports to the collegiate level can sometimes be a challenging and intimidating ride for many players. Freshman Joe Thomas and grey-shirt freshman Joe Monty dominated their high school football programs but now they are trying to make a name for themselves in Badger football.
Thomas, a 6-8 280-pound offensive lineman from Brookfield, Wis., has already put himself in the Badger history books by being the first true freshman offensive lineman to receive playing time under coach Barry Alvarez. He has played at tight end in the short yardage and goal line offenses against West Virginia and Akron.
Monty, a 6-2 246-pound defensive lineman from Ft. Collins, Col., saw action against Akron. He contributed to the team's victory with two tackles.
Nervousness was the main feeling Thomas had during his first game against West Virginia.
"I ended up not getting any playing time in the first half," Thomas said. "By the time the first half was over with I was really anxious to get in the game because I'm not used to watching the game from the sidelines."
The game against Akron gave both players a chance to show the Camp Randall crowd what they are made of.
"It was unbelievable playing at Camp Randall," Monty said. "It has been the greatest experience of my life so far."
"First game at home was really exciting because I got to be in front of all my friends and family," Thomas added. "I was really excited to show them what I've been working for all summer."
As the two freshmen entered their first seasons, they expected many differences in their lives on and off the field. Everything from playing with a new group of guys, to dealing with a roommate, to not having their mom do their laundry for them anymore were some things they knew they would have to face upon coming to Madison.
All these adjustments can be hard for any college student but when one is involved in athletics as well, it becomes even harder to balance things out. Thomas and Monty have not seen this as too much of a problem yet.
"It's been a little bit of an adjustment but I've gotten used to it because my schedule was pretty hectic in high school," Thomas said. "The big thing to get used to is having a roommate."
Since Monty enrolled in January 2003 he has had some time to get adjusted to college life. The transition hasn't been much of an issue for him at all.
"It helped a lot being a grey-shirt because I got mixed in with the college life before the football life," Monty commented.
As fall brings football, it also marks the beginning of classes for any student, which means plenty of homework to be done. Both players work hard on the field as well as in the classroom.
"So far it seems like football is taking up a lot of our day," Thomas said. "We do plan two hours of studying into our day and that really helps a lot as far as getting homework done, and anything that you need for class."
"Sometimes it's hard to balance both football and school because you have so much school work and then you have football stuff and you're usually up really late," Monty added.
Besides the difference in academics, and lifestyles, the level of competition in collegiate football is extremely different from the high school level Monty and Thomas were used to playing at. Longer practices, more weight training, and the Big Ten atmosphere were some things that have awaited them.
"In high school you have guys just trying to make it through practice," Thomas said. "In college guys are going against each other every play at 100 percent and they want to beat you just as much as you want to beat them. They'll do everything to put you on the ground."
Monty added that the collegiate level of play is a lot faster, harder and much more intense than what he was used to in high school.
As they continue to develop throughout their years as Badgers, Monty and Thomas hope to have a significant impact on the team.
Offensive line coach Jim Hueber knows Thomas is a work in progress, but already sees a very promising future.
"He's done a nice job for us as a freshman," Hueber said. "I think he's so athletic, and he can give you confidence that if he goes into the game he's going to be OK. The thing that shows up from being an athlete and being a defensive player in high school is he has good leverage when he's blocking down on people and he's been able to turn that into a positive force on our offense. With those two things to build on, he's got a pretty good start."
As for Monty, he comes from an extremely athletic family. His dad played football at Notre Dame and his older brother, Pete, is no stranger to Wisconsin football. Pete is the school's career tackle leader. With this background, the coaching staff is optimistic that Monty will make his own mark on Badger football.